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Puerto Rico: The New Hub for Ag-Biotech Innovation

August 4, 2014

 “Biotechnology Innovation—the union of scientific discovery and capital can flourish in a supportive research and regulatory environment. Key policy principles will help facilitate the discovery, development, and commercialization of biotech products that will fight disease, feed the hungry and improve the environment”-BIO 2014

A quote that wholly describes the agricultural climate of Puerto Rico.  The country offers a perfect location, climate, great soil quality, inviting regulatory system, three pronounced academic/research programs and friendly biotech work environment for future Ag biotech companies.

Puerto Rico has a distinct advantage over the United States: nearly a full year of spring-summer conditions, permitting 3-4 cycles for harvest a year. Not to mention that the southern part of the island, where many biotech farms are already located, has particularly low precipitation and has perfect conditions to grow corn and sorghum, two of the most popular crops from the island. This substantially reduces research and development time, and costs:

Most projects take 10 to 15 generations. Normally they are developed in temperate countries where it is only possible to plant one generation per year. In Puerto Rico, we can plant one generation per year, sometimes 4.

Not only does Puerto Rico have the ideal climate to cultivate, but it also has a very qualified labor force and high employee availability. The unemployment rate in Puerto Rico averages 14 percent, while in the southern part of the island, where many of the seed facilities operate, the unemployment rate may be higher than  25 percent. For many seasonal workers employed within the Ag-biotech industry, these companies may be the only income source for them.

Since the island is U.S. territory, it must undergo the same regulatory procedures for agricultural biotech companies located in the states, which includes USDA, FDA and EPA approvals and oversight. Additionally, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has its own regulatory process.  Within Puerto Rico, there are even Ag biotech government incentives provided by state and federal programs. From a marketing standpoint, Puerto Rico is located closer to the United States than Hawaii, and this makes exportation of products to the U.S. deliverable in a shorter amount of time.

Unlike other industrial clusters, the Ag-Biotech industry in Puerto Rico did not develop as a concerted effort of local authorities. Instead it was the natural result of companies recognizing the advantages Puerto Rico has to offer.